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Since Roger Federer's victory over Rafael Nadal in the Australian Open final last month, people have run riot with the idea that the debate over who the 'greatest of all time' is, is dead and buried. Yes, Federer now holds 18 grand slam titles, 4 ahead of Nadal and Sampras. And the fact that he clinched the last one beating his arch-rival Rafa, at the age of 35, that too on his comeback after being on the sidelines for 6 months due to injury, makes it even sweeter. It seems like a fairy-tale ending for the great Roger Federer.
I just think that the story is far from over.
I know that there are a million reasons why Roger Federer can be called the GOAT. He is far ahead of his closest (active) rivals, Nadal and Djokovic, in terms of grand slam titles. He has reigned 302 weeks at number 1 in the rankings, the most by any player, and again, far ahead of Djokovic (223 weeks) and Nadal (141 weeks). As impressive as his dominance, is also his consistency, with 'freakish' records such as 10 consecutive grand slam finals, 23 consecutive semi finals, and 36 consecutive quarter finals. He has 5 or more slams in three majors, the only player to ever do that (of course Serena has done it, and she is clearly the GOAT on the women's side). He has 89 singles career titles, second only to Jimmy Connors (109; Djokovic has 67, Nadal has 69). These are just few of an ocean of records he has accomplished over the course of his career, and he looks good enough to add more to his legacy.
But why I refuse to make a statement on the GOAT debate is because even Nadal's and Djokovic's career are far from over. I remember critics and pundits writing off Federer still being a dominant force after he lost the Wimbledon final to Nadal in 2008. He came back to win Wimbledon and French Open the following year to shut them up. They again wrote him off in 2010 when he only managed to win the Australian Open out of the 4 grand slams (which was rock bottom for Federer standards back then). This to and fro continues to this day, and he continues to prove them wrong every single time. That is why I feel that people shouldn't write off Nadal and Djokovic as of now. Many people believe that their bodies will give in because of the physical nature of their game. I don't buy that argument, because they are great champions, and champions always find a way to overcome even the greatest of odds. What if Nadal wins the Roland Garros this year, and maybe the US Open after that.. and the 2018 Roland Garros, taking his tally to 17 slams (and say, Federer doesn't win any slams during this period). Would people still say that Federer is the greatest ever without a shred of doubt? What if Djokovic overcomes Nadal to win this year's French, defeats Federer in Wimbledon to win there, and downs Murray or Wawrinka to win the US Open too. With 15 grand slams and a winning head to head against Nadal and Federer, would he still be considered to be far behind Federer even then? And this can all happen in a year's time. Who knows how long they are going to play.. And with how much dominance. Only time can tell, and that is why I refuse to commit myself looking at just the current scenario.
Another reason why I feel that this issue will always be debatable is because no matter how many statistics you throw in to the mix, it can never have a definite outcome. Why? Because there is no hard and fast rule on what a 'greatest of all time' must achieve.. It is more subjective than we think. The number of criteria are innumerable. A player is judged by how great he/she is by the tally of grand slam titles, consistency over different surfaces, consistency and longevity of his/her career, the level of dominance while playing at one's peak, career win losses, head to head against closest rivals, performance at the Olympics, World tour finals, Davis Cup and the list just keeps on going on and on. But when it comes to declaring a winner for the GOAT debate, the priority given to each and every criteria varies from person to person. While Federer has been able to tick more boxes than most, his only major blemish has been his lopsided head to head against Rafael Nadal. Some of us will argue that that rules him out of the GOAT debate right away, because if you cannot be the greatest in your own generation, how can you be called the greatest of all time? Others will call him the greatest without thinking twice, because for them, his long list of accomplishments overshadow his losing record against Nadal. And either argument cannot be discounted, because it is more an opinion than a tangible conclusion.
I can be called guilty for taking the mid ground on this one, but I see no other logical way to see this. No doubt I am a huge Federer fan (my blog URL is magical'fed'.blogspot.com, that's how crazy I am about him), but I like Djokovic and Nadal too, their admirable mental strength and the will to win, an inspiration for all. GOAT or not, it does not matter so much to me. I will always root for Roger in every match he plays, not to make sure that he cements his place in the GOAT race, but because I love watching him play the graceful, aesthetic brand of tennis that only he can. The way he glides around the court is a delight to the eyes, and the fact that he is still doing that at the age of 35 is mind boggling in itself. GOAT or not, I will celebrate whatever he achieves from here on, because he has been an idol, an inspiration for me for years now, and will continue to be forever. GOAT or not, I will cherish each and every point he plays, because years on from this day, I will proudly tell the younglings that I was there when the legendary Federer won 18 grand slams.